Monday, March 15, 2010
..... SWAMI RANGANATHANANDA......
Romain Rolland, in his well-known work "The Life of Ramakrishna" speaking about the Great Shepherds of Modern India, refers also to numerous less known spiritual leaders, and introduces Sri Narayana as the ‘Great Guru’
"whose beneficent spiritual activity was exercised for more than forty years in the State of Travancore over some million faithful souls. He preached, if one may say so, a Jnana of action, a great intellectual religion, having a very lively sense of the people, and their social needs. It has greatly contributed to the uplifting of the oppressed classes in Southern India and its activities have in a measure been allied to those of Gandhi." (Footnote to p. 166)
Sri Narayana Guru came of a section of India’s population which possessed no rights and privileges and which consequently received the name of Depressed Classes in modern times. Totally neglected and often oppressed and suppressed for a thousand years by the higher classes, the seventy million Depressed Classes of India, as of other parts of the world, constituted the basis of economic prosperity and social well-being of the country, as they formed the entire labour front. Continued slavery for generations had produced in these classes, as it is bound to produce in any class of men, an oppressive sense of its own little ness and helplessness–a sense of despair. Slavery is bad enough; but a situation in which the slave begins to accept his position as part of a natural social order–a position in which there is dictated duty without any inherent right and privilege–is something which reduces man to the level of cattle and robs him of his human prerogatives. This was precisely the condition of the Indian masses at the beginning of the nineteenth century when India was thrown open to the play of world forces. The mingling of the age-old idealism of India with the thought-forms and forces of the modern world has ushered a new epoch in Indian History, whose foundations were laid in the last century by the life and work of a few great leaders and the movements associated with them. These teachers and movements mainly appealed to the higher classes generating in them a sense of past guilt and of their present ‘duty to the masses.’ The movements have borne fruit so that the Renaissance in India does not exhaust itself in a mere political upheaval but assumes the more enduring forms of a religious awakening and social transformation. The world outside sees mostly India’s political awakening. Far more important to India herself is the great struggle for social justice and social well-being that is going on with in her bosom. It is, in the words of Swami Vivekananda,
"a struggle unto life and death to bring about a new state of things–sympathy for the poor–and bread to their hungry mouths–enlightenment to the people at large–and struggle unto death to make men of them who have been brought to the level of beasts, by the tyranny of your forefathers."
Thanks to the work of Ram Mohan and Dayananda, Vivekananda and Gandhi, Hindu Society has seriously taken in hand the work of self-purification. The Charter of Freedom has been proclaimed with no uncertain voice and the dead-weight of custom and tradition is being slowly lifted. We have also to be beholden to western thought and political practice which have helped to break our ‘crystallised civilization.’ Social progress in India has always been on the lines of the sharing of the benefits of culture and of higher Hindu thought by larger and larger sections of the population. Democratisation of knowledge and of opportunity meant also the elevation of the people. The best genius of Hinduism lay in this direction in a special sense. If there had been stagnation due to the dead-weight of meaningless custom and oppressive tradition, it meant only that society had forgotten the larger plan and purpose of the ancient leaders. Society is then need of a new dynamism. In India, this urge to progress has always come from great saints and sages and not from mere political thinkers. A new passion for dharma has supplied the necessary revolutionary urge Hinduism seeks to demonstrate that the progress and well-being of the masses do not lie against religion. They are, more properly, tests as to the soundness of a religion. Swami Vivekananda sums up this out look and programme in the formula: "Elevation of the masses without injuring their religion."
But the awakening of the conscience of the privileged is only on act in the drama of enfranchisement. The other equally, if not more important, part is the process of self-discovery on the part of the oppressed themselves. This period of awakening of the Mass to a sense of its own worth and importance is a critical period in the history of a people. It may be either explosive and destructive or gentle and constructive; but the effect is revolutionary in both cases. The most serious criticism against a violent revolution is that it rarely achieves its original purposes. The second type is more permanent and far-reaching in its effects.
That these recent changes in Hindu Society are of a peaceful and constructive character is as much owing to the good sense of the Indian masses as to the soundness of Hindu social philosophy and ideals. The movement of reform associated with Sri Narayana Guru is unique in one important respect. It is entirely constructive and devoid of any bitterness against the higher classes. All over the world, the unprivileged classes, in their awakening, have manifested what may be called legitimate hostility and bitterness against the privileged. All the blame has been attached to one side. From the purely human point of view, there may be some justification for this attitude and the class-hatred that it fosters. But it is harmful to the abiding interests of social health and well-being. The theory that all social progress is the result of class-antagonism and class war is yet to be proved. The clash of interests in a society is inevitable. What is not so evident is that social progress is the beneficent result of such clashes. It is more reasonable to hold that true progress is possible only where class antagonism is least, in virtue of the emphasis on ideas and ideals which are the common wealth of all classes. This is the meaning and significance of the Indian conception of Dharma–a conception which seeks the unity of social endeavour through harmony and co-operation. It is to the eternal glory of Sri Narayana Guru to have inaugurated a movement which embodies in itself this unique genius of Hinduism and to have released the forces of the spirit for the solution of the many pressing problems of even the mundane life of his people. In this, he takes rank with the saints and reformers of earlier centuries and, more specially, with Guru Nanak the founder of the Sikh fraternity. Except in one respect, there is striking similarity between the life and work of these two masters who are separated by about five centuries. Nanak belonged to the higher classes but fraternised with and reformed the lowly and the lost in Hindu Society. Narayana Guru was born with the social stigma of an untouchable among whom he worked and whose life he transformed. The lowness of his birth could in no way hide or smother the richness of his native endowment. It is this wealth of native genius that enabled him to raise himself and his people above the depressing circumstances of an unjust social order. He imparted life to the almost dead bones and muscles of his people and made them conscious of their human worth and dignity. Rightly is he called ‘the Guru’ whose breath is hope and whose touch is life.
Sri Narayana shows himself at his best in wisdom and discernment in the role of a religious and social reformer. There has been no dearth of reformers and reform proposals in modern India. But most of the social reforms advocated by them are more ornamental than real. In his famous lecture on ‘My Plan of Campaign’, Swami Vivekananda refers to this problem in these words:
"To the reformers I will point out, that I am a greater reformer than any of them. They want to reform only little bits. I want root-and-branch reform. Where we differ is in the method. Theirs is the method of destruction; mine is construction. I do not believe in reform; I believe in growth……We admit there are evils. Everybody can show what evil is, but he is the friend of mankind who finds a way out of the difficulty. Like the drowning boy and the philosopher, when the philosopher was lecturing him the boy cried–‘Take me out of the water first’; so our people cry: ‘We have had lectures enough, papers enough, societies enough, where is the man who will lend us a hand to drag us out? Where is the man who has sympathy for us?’ Aye, that man is wanted."
About the these words were spoken at Madras by the great prophet of the modern Indian Renaissance, he sunken masses of the neighbouring province of Kerala were finding their hopes and their voice in the personality of Sri Narayana Guru who had by then started his silent work of transformation. World events are compelling us to the view that the best legislative authority in the world is Character. The Rishi has always been recognised as the law-giver in India. His knowledge and his detachment constitute the guarantee for the equity of his legislation. In Sri Narayana Guru the people found such a law-giver. Himself a monk; and a man of God, in virtue of which he rose above all social conventions and obligations, he yet descended to the level of his fellowmen in an attitude of compassion, and lent his loving hands to drag them out of their misery. And he had the supreme satisfaction to witness, even in his own life-time, the ample reward of his labours in the improved moral tone and the material well-being of his people.
Sri Narayana Guru is reputed to have been a great Ayurvedic physician. But he was a greater physician of social maladies. He prescribed education as the one remedy for all the ills of the depressed classes. He was the unwearied champion of modern education for his people. This was to pave the way for their economic and social advancement. Equally important is the acquirement of culture, for which he prescribed Sanskrit education. A third vital need was spiritual sustenance, which comes first in importance in his scheme. To meet this need, he consecrated temples and shrines. Temples, modern education, and Sanskrit culture formed the integral parts of the Guru’s method of ‘root and-branch reform.’ In asking his people to depend upon their own resources he inspired them with self respect and self-help which helped to draw out their latent capacities. The power thus released was canalised into constructive channels resulting in the creation of a network of institutions to serve the religious, educational, social and economic needs of the community throughout the Province of Kerala.
The curse of untouchability is practised in its most extreme form in Kerala, for which that province had earned the name of ‘a lunatic asylum’ from Swami Vivekananda. The thoughts of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi mingled with the silent and steady work of Sri Narayana Guru led to the great act of expiation in the famous Temple-entry Proclamation, which at one stroke bridged the wide gulf that separated the classes from the masses and wiped away one of the deep-seated stains on the Society and the Province. In this great achievement, Sri Narayana Guru’s contribution has been immense. Under the inspiration of his name and ideals, the depressed classes of Kerala are making rapid strides in educational advancement and economic improvement. In regard to several sections of them, the name ‘depressed class’ is a thorough misnomer to-day. It is only a question of time when this stigma on them and on Hindu Society will be a thing of the past, not merely in the Province of Sri Narayana Guru’s birth but also in the whole of India. This was the dream of Swami Vivekananda as it is the passion of Mahatma Gandhi to-day. Only then will be accomplished the purification and strengthening of Hindu Society and Hindu Religion when the paralysed limb of Society comprising the seventy million people of the unprivileged classes will be galvanised into self-conscious activity, and contribute their share to the building up of a healthier national life. In this great work of reform and consolidation in the wider field of India, the ideals and methods of Sri Narayana Guru are bound to be an unfailing source of inspiration and guidance. In all that he was and all that he did, Sri Narayana Guru stands as the supreme symbol of hope and redemption to the depressed classes of India.
Posted by "Gurucharanam Sharanam" at 8:38 AM